Average Handle Time: Strategies for Optimizing AHT in Your Call Center

Megan Black
Megan Black
Average Handle Time: Strategies for Optimizing AHT in Your Call Center

In call centers, Average Handle Time (AHT) stands as a crucial metric, intimately linked to the core dynamics of customer interaction and service efficiency. Often abbreviated to AHT, this measure captures the average duration of a single customer transaction, encompassing talk time, hold time, and after-call work.

Its significance extends beyond a mere time measure; AHT serves as a barometer for assessing the effectiveness of agent-customer interactions and the operational efficiency of the call center.

By closely monitoring and managing AHT, call centers can achieve a delicate balance – enhancing the productivity of agents while simultaneously ensuring customer satisfaction.

This balance is pivotal, as it directly influences the quality of service, shapes customer perceptions, and impacts the overall success of the call center operations.

In this article we'll be diving deeper into the complexities of calculating Average Handle Time and essential strategies to optimize AHT in your call center.

What is Average Handle Time (AHT)?

Average Handle Time, a pivotal key performance indicator in call center operations, is dissected into several crucial components, each highlighting a different aspect of the customer-agent interaction:

  • Talk Time: This is the actual duration of conversation between the agent and the customer. It's a direct measure of how long an agent spends addressing the customer’s concerns.
  • Hold Time: This refers to the periods during a call when the customer is on hold. Efficient management of hold time is essential for maintaining customer satisfaction and reducing overall call duration.
  • After-Call Work: This encompasses all the tasks an agent performs after a call is concluded. It includes updating customer records, processing requests, or any administrative work related to the call.

Understanding and analyzing these components helps in providing a comprehensive picture of how effective and efficiently a call center is operating.

Optimizing AHT is not just about minimizing the duration of these components; it's about enhancing the quality and effectiveness of each interaction to ensure a seamless and responsive customer experience.

Why is AHT Important to Call Centers?

Average Handle Time is more than just a KPI – it's a factor that can streamline contact center operations. When a call center lowers AHT without compromising service quality, it can amplify productivity, manage costs, enhance agent utilization, and maintain customer satisfaction. The focus on handling calls efficiently reverberates throughout the entire organization.

Here's what a reduction in AHT can mean for your call center:

  • Operational Efficiency: By reducing the average time spent on each call, agents can manage more calls during their shifts. This enhances the overall productivity of the team.
  • Cost Management: Lowering AHT means better agent utilization. Fewer agents might be required to handle the same volume of calls, reducing staffing costs.
  • Agent Confidence: Encouraging agents to handle calls efficiently while maintaining quality can lead to a more engaged and motivated workforce.
  • Improved Reputation: If handled correctly, a reduced AHT can still lead to satisfied customers. Efficiency does not have to mean rushing through calls but finding more streamlined ways to provide solutions.

How does AHT impact customer satisfaction and experience?

Managing Average Handle Time is a delicate balance for your customers. They appreciate swift resolutions, but they don't want to feel rushed or that their concerns are being overlooked.

Overall, a carefully managed AHT can benefit customer satisfaction in many ways:

  • Customer Time-Savings: Quick yet effective resolutions lead to less time spent on hold or in conversation, improving customer experience.
  • Enhanced Customer Loyalty: If customers consistently receive efficient and satisfactory support, they are more likely to remain loyal to your company.
  • Better Customer Experience: An optimized AHT means efficient problem-solving, leading to a satisfying overall experience without making customers feel hurried.

How do you calculate AHT? 

Average Handle Time might appear simple to determine. The general formula to calculate AHT is: (Total talk time + Total hold time + Total post-call work) / Total number of calls = AHT.

When measuring, remember that each segment (talk time, hold time, post-call work) is integral in understanding how agents are spending their time during customer interactions.

For instance, in June, Company A's total interaction time was 12,000 minutes for 2,500 calls, resulting in an AHT of 4.8 minutes.

On the other hand, Company B spent 18,200 minutes on 3,500 calls, leading to an AHT of approximately 5.2 minutes.

how do you calculate average handle time?

Accuracy in AHT calculations is pivotal for grasping your call center's operational productivity and the quality of customer interactions. 

What’s the best way to measure and track AHT?

Despite its significance, not every call center adequately tracks AHT.

Consistent and precise methods for tracking talk time, hold time, and post-call work are essential. Both managerial staff and frontline agents are instrumental in this process.

Effective AHT tracking can be facilitated through:

Data Collection

Begin by capturing all relevant data for each call. This includes the total time from the moment a call is answered to its conclusion, encompassing hold times, transfer times, and talk time.

Use the Right Tools

Invest in advanced call center software that can automatically record and calculate AHT. Automation ensures precision and saves manual effort.

Analyze Trends Over Time

Don't get bogged down by daily fluctuations. Instead, analyze AHT trends over weeks or months to get a holistic view of performance.

Segment Data

Break down AHT by different categories like agent, shift, call type, or issue. This will provide deeper insights into specific areas that may need attention.

Regular Coaching

Schedule regular coaching sessions to discuss AHT metrics. This fosters continuous improvement and keeps the team aligned with efficiency goals.

Balance with Quality

Remember, a lower AHT is beneficial, but not at the expense of service quality. Regularly check customer feedback and satisfaction scores to ensure efficiency doesn't overshadow customer experience.

By following these steps, call centers can effectively measure, monitor, and manage their AHT, striking a balance between operational efficiency and stellar customer service.

What’s a good AHT target for call centers?

An acceptable AHT will differ based on the industry, call complexity, and specific call center goals. Unfortunately, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer to this.

For instance, data shows healthcare AHT should aim for 3 minutes and 28 seconds, while telecommunications AHT is closer to 2 minutes and 36 seconds.

INDUSTRY AHT
Consumer/Professional services 3 minutes, 36 seconds
Financial services 4 minutes, 5 seconds
Government & Public Sector 4 minutes, 12 seconds
Healthcare 3 minutes, 28 seconds
Hospitality 3 minutes, 11 seconds
Manufacturing 4 minutes, 13 seconds
Media & Communications 3 minutes, 30 seconds
Retail, Ecommerce, and Consumer Goods 3 minutes, 29 seconds
Telecommunications 2 minutes, 36 seconds
Transportation and Logistics 4 minutes, 8 seconds

Data Source: Hubspot

Just as with FCR, it's crucial to establish AHT targets tailored to your call center's unique dynamics.

This requires constant monitoring, evaluation, and industry benchmarking.

Striking the perfect balance between efficiency and service quality is essential.

How can you improve AHT?

Streamlining Average Handle Time (AHT) is a delicate balance between efficiency and maintaining high-quality service. By implementing the right strategies, call centers can strike this balance and serve customers more proficiently.

Here's how:

  1. Quality Training: Equip agents with comprehensive coaching, emphasizing not only the tools they'll use but also the most common scenarios they may encounter. A well-prepared agent can resolve issues faster.
  2. Accessible Knowledge Bases: Ensure agents have instant access to a dynamic knowledge base that provides solutions to frequent queries. The faster they can access information, the quicker the resolution.
  3. Empower with Tools: Implement state-of-the-art call center software that aids in reducing hold times, seamless transfers, and offers features like screen sharing or co-browsing.
  4. Encourage First Call Resolution (FCR): Prioritize resolving customer issues during the first call. First call resolution not only reduces AHT but also improves customer satisfaction.
  5. Regular Feedback Sessions: Regularly review call recordings and provide constructive feedback. Recognizing patterns where agents may spend extra time can offer opportunities for improvement.
  6. Automate Routine Tasks: Utilize automation for routine and repetitive tasks, such as data entry or sending follow-up emails, allowing agents to focus solely on the call.
  7. Set Clear Expectations: While it's essential to aim for lower AHT, it's equally crucial that agents understand they shouldn't rush calls. Quality should always remain paramount.

By adopting these strategies, call centers can improve their AHT without compromising the quality of service, ensuring an optimal experience for both agents and customers. 

How can you avoid the most common AHT mistakes?

Effectively optimizing Average Handle Time requires more than just implementing best practices. It's equally vital to recognize and sidestep common mistakes that can inadvertently lengthen call durations or compromise service quality. Let's delve into how to avoid these pitfalls:

  1. Prioritizing Speed Over Quality: While a low AHT is desirable, it should never come at the cost of excellent service. Always prioritize quality interactions to ensure customer satisfaction.
  2. Neglecting Agent Training: Cutting corners in agent training might seem like a cost-saving measure, but it can inflate AHT in the long run. Continuous training ensures agents are well-equipped to handle calls effectively.
  3. Ignoring Customer Feedback: Customer feedback can be a goldmine of insights into where time is unnecessarily spent during calls. Paying heed to this feedback can spotlight areas of improvement.
  4. Overburdening Agents: Assigning excessive tasks outside of call handling can lead to fatigue and increased AHT. Ensure agents have a manageable workload.
  5. Failing to Update Technology: Outdated software or tools can cause unnecessary delays. Regularly assess and update your call center tech stack to maintain efficiency.
  6. Not Reviewing Call Data: Overlooking call data and analytics is a missed opportunity. Analyzing this data can reveal patterns, helping managers to address specific areas that impact AHT.
  7. Setting Unrealistic Expectations: Pushing agents to achieve an unrealistically low AHT can lead to stress and rushed interactions. Set attainable targets that balance efficiency with quality.

By staying vigilant against these missteps and keeping a proactive approach, call centers can enhance AHT while ensuring a stellar customer experience.

FAQs about Average Handle Time (AHT)

While we’ve covered a lot about Average Handle Time, here are a few other commonly asked questions:

"What factors affect AHT?"

AHT is influenced by various factors including the complexity of customer issues, agent training and expertise, the efficiency of the tools and systems in use, and the clarity of communication processes. Additionally, KPIs like First Call Resolution (FCR), Service Level (SL), and Contact Quality can play a role in AHT, as the depth of resolution, waiting times, and interaction quality can all impact the duration of a call or interaction.

“How do I reduce live chat handle time?”

To reduce live chat handle time, ensure agents have access to efficient scripts and tools, encourage concurrent chat handling where feasible, and provide continuous training based on customer feedback and chat analytics.

“Do emails count towards AHT?”

AHT traditionally pertains to phone calls in a contact center. However, in a broader context, it can be adapted to measure any interaction time, including emails. In such cases, it might be referred to as "Average Email Handling Time."

“Do remote workforces have a higher AHT?”

Remote workforces don't inherently have a higher AHT. However, remote agents might face unique challenges, such as internet connectivity issues or distractions, which can influence AHT. Proper training, tools, and a conducive remote working environment can mitigate these challenges.

"How should AHT be balanced against other call center KPIs?"

AHT should be viewed in conjunction with other KPIs like First Call Resolution (FCR) and Customer Satisfaction (CSAT). While efficiency is vital, it shouldn't come at the cost of service quality. Balancing AHT with other metrics ensures that call centers maintain both efficiency and high-quality customer interactions.

How can AmplifAI improve a call center’s AHT?

Improving Average Handle Time, while maintaining or boosting quality, is crucial for efficient call center operations. AmplifAI’s advanced AI-enabled performance enhancement platform emerges as a vital tool in optimizing this delicate balance, ensuring efficiency and quality go hand-in-hand.

Here's how AmplifAI can revolutionize your AHT:

  1. Skill Profiling: AmplifAI’s algorithms identify specific skills or knowledge gaps that may prolong call durations. With this insight, supervisors know the Next Best Action for every agent and the targeted training they need to address these areas.
  2. Best Practices Identification: Through AI analysis, AmplifAI discerns patterns from top-performing agents who have lower AHTs. These best practices can then be shared across the team, standardizing efficient handling methods.
  3. Engagement through Gamification: Encourage agents to achieve optimal AHT scores through fun and motivational gamified challenges. AmplifAI allows the creation of tailored games and leaderboards, fostering healthy competition and rewarding efficiency.
  4. Feedback Loop Optimization: Rapid feedback is essential for growth. AmplifAI ensures that agents receive timely, data-backed feedback on their AHT performance, cultivating an environment of continuous improvement.

One of our recent case studies is an excellent example of the transformation that can be achieved with AmplifAI. A dramatic improvement in coaching effectiveness led to a 24% increase in AHT for a major U.S. telecommunications provider. Read the full case study here. 

By leveraging AmplifAI, call centers can masterfully optimize AHT, resulting in an agile, effective, and quality-centric operation that delights both agents and customers.

Optimized AHT Boosts Productivity, Enhances Agent Morale, and Drives Customer Satisfaction

Average Handle Time (AHT) stands as a pivotal gauge for call center operations, harmonizing the balance between efficiency and quality.

Strategically optimized AHT can lead to impressive gains in productivity, substantial cost savings, heightened agent morale, and bolstered customer loyalty. Yet, it's imperative to measure and manage AHT with a discerning eye, avoiding pitfalls like sacrificing service quality for speed. Investing in agent empowerment, adopting data-driven insights, and refining processes can bring about significant improvements in AHT. 

By mastering AHT, call centers can promise quicker resolutions, more engaged agents, and highly satisfied customers.

 --

Could AmplifAI help you improve your AHT? Let’s find out!

Share with your network!

Benefit
Result
💯
Improved Performance & Customer Experience
Month over month gains in Issue Resolution,
FCR and NPS;
Month over month reductions in Handle times,
ACW and Hold
👥
Winning additional client headcount
30% improvement in sales conversion
💪
Retaining talented people
8-point reduction in turnover
💰
Improving financial performance
10% increase in utilization

Summary

The future of success in your contact center is contingent on how you impact performance in ways that are both immediate and sustainable. And it doesn’t matter whether your agents are on-site, at-home, full-time, part-time, or temporary – you must deliver on performance.

Coaching is one of the most significant tools we can use to deliver on the engagement and performance of our people – but we must develop our processes, our people and leadership skills, and our technology tools, in order to overthrow the pervasive challenges to achieving greater coaching effectiveness and supercharging contact center performance!

Unlock the potential of your employees and skyrocket your ROI with cutting-edge coaching.

call center coaching cta@0.5x

Connect with the authors:

Melissa Pollock Customer Success at AmplifAI

Jim Rembach President at CX Media

schedule demo CTA 2

Call Center Coaching

The Comprehensive Guide to Improving Agent Performance

Start Learning
Improved Call Center, Contact Center Coaching
Improving CSAT at Your Contact Center or Call Center
Improving FCR at Your Contact Center or Call Center
Improving Sales at Your Contact Center or Call Center

Learning Library Preview

The AI-Driven Performance Enablement Platform Built for Enterprise Teams
Sales
What Is Upselling?
The AI-Driven Performance Enablement Platform Built for Enterprise Teams
Collections
Pre Call Preparation
The AI-Driven Performance Enablement Platform Built for Enterprise Teams
Soft Skills
Vocal Confidence
The AI-Driven Performance Enablement Platform Built for Enterprise Teams
Coaching
Preparing for Coaching
Access The Learning Library for Free
Megan Black

Megan Black

AmplifAI on LinkedIntwitter x

Stay Connected

Join the other leaders who receive our posts by email
Recommended Reading